Excerpt: 'Telegraph Avenue' by Michael Chabon
Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
“Hello?” Gwen called, letting herself in the front door. A small black Buddha greeted her from a low table by the front door, where it kept company with a photograph of Lydia Frankenthaler, the producer of an Oscar-winning documentary film about the neglected plight of lesbians in Nazi Germany; Lydia’s partner, Garth; and Lydia’s daughter from her first marriage, a child whose father was black and whose name Gwen had forgotten. It was a Chinese Buddha, the kind that was supposed to pull in money and luck, jolly, babyfaced, and potbellied, reminding Gwen of her darling husband apart from the signal difference that you could rub the continental expanse of Archy Stallings’s abdomen for a very long time without attracting any flow of money in your direction. “Somebody having a baby around here?”
“In here, Gwen,” Aviva said.
Lydia and Garth, a lawyer for the poor, were having their baby in their living room. It was a large room with a vaulted ceiling and nothing between it and the canyon but a wall of solid glass. The girl — Arabia, Alabama, she had a geographical name — sat marveling blankly at the spectacle of her naked mother reposed like an abstract chunk of marble sculpture in the center of the room. Against her legs the girl held a rectangle of cardstock to which she had pasted the three pages of her mother’s birth plan, decorating the borders in four colors of marker with flowers and vines and a happy-looking fetus labeled BELLA. Two low sofas had been pushed to the sides of the room to make space for a wide flat sandwich crafted from a tatami mat, a slab of egg-carton foam rubber, and a shower curtain decorated with a giant self-portrait of Frida Kahlo. Garth, a small-boned, thin-shanked man with a red beard and red stubble on his head, lay sleeping on the improvised bed.
“I’m at nine!” said Lydia by way of greeting, adding whatever comment was provided by her spread, furryish butt cheeks and the backs of her legs as she bent over in the downward-facing-dog position to grab two handfuls of floor. “A hundred percent effaced.”